Sunday, 29 June 2008


Petra -famous temples in mountain gorges as featured in Indiana Jones does something or other ...

Good things
Huge temples carved into the mountain side and the odd one on top of the mountain.
Had to scramble up 800 steps avoiding tourists on donkeys and bead sellers but the view over the mountains to Israel was spectacular.
Eerie wailing of Imans resonating around the mountains at sunset
Being driven along Kings Highway and traversing enormous canyons - similar to the Grand canyon

Bad things
High rate of water perspiration into hat from 8 hours of wandering around with the camels.
Hat washing required

The King's Highway and Karak Castle

We went with our regular taxi driver to Petra via the King's Highway. We stopped for a breathtaking view of the Wadi Mujeb. You can see how the road snakes its way into the valley and then up the other side. We felt like we were on top of the world as we looked down to the dam below.

Next, he took us to Karak, one of the Crusader castles in the area. It is 1000 meters above the Dead Sea and had great strategic importance. It was build in 1132 by Baldwin I of Jerusalem. It formed part of a great line of crusader castles between Aquaba (on the Red Sea) and Turkey. It lies between Jerusalem and Shobak. It could not hold out against Salah Eddin, the Muslim leader of the time. He attacked it after Reynoud De Chatillon broke several treaties with him. If you see that recent crusade movie, Kingdom of Heaven starring Orlando Bloom, it portrays some of these events. The Mamluks refortified the castle and later it was even used by the Ottomans.
The Karak Castle museum had a really nice timeline that told us who controlled the area from the neolithic period up until present times. We enjoyed wandering around the castle ruins. Afterward, our driver took us to his friend's restaurant for some delicious barbecued kebabs. He seems to know everyone in Jordan.

Thursday, 26 June 2008


Jerash, the most complete set of Roman ruins outside of Italy, is located in northwestern Jordan. It is very impressive! We started our visit by passing through Hadrian's triumphal arch, built in 129 AD to honor the emperor's visit to this once-thriving Roman city. It was meant to eventually form part of the South Gate, but this project was never completed. So, we passed through the original South Gate behind it to get to the Hippodrome. They were conducting mock chariot races, but they cost an additional 12 JD to watch so we opted to continue our free tour. The large, dusty track in the photo shows the remains of this ancient hippodrome. Next, we entered the Oval Court. This was amazing - a vast ovular courtyard surrounded by huge columns. Then, we proceeded down the main colonnaded street. It was lined with monumental columns. They were absolutely enormous in person! You could still see the marks from the chariots along the pavement as well. This street was originally lined with two-story shops and covered walkways. I will have to finish our blog tomorrow because this internet connection is way too slow.... Still to come - Petra!

Aljun Castle (Qala'at ar-Rabad)

We drove through the outskirts of Amman and continued north to reach Aljun Castle (Qala'at ar-Rabad), an Islamic fortress high on a mountain with views across to Syria and Israel. It was built to counter the threat of the Crusaders. They had their own castle, Belvoire, on Lake Tiberius. It held off the Crusaders, but then it fell to the Mongols in the 13th century.

Later, it was rebuilt by the Mamluks and it remains a really good example of early Muslim castle-building. The highlight of the visit, however, is the breathtaking views from the castle's mountaintop perch.

The Dead Sea

Stephen's notes on our first two days in Jordan....

Good things
View from Mount Nebo overlooking Moses's promised land. Looks like more rocks and sand to me but maybe he had a vision of what it would be 2000 years later
Visit to the River Jordan when Jesus was baptised. It's 6 ft wide here. Not much of a border!
Floating in the Dead Sea. Actually you feel a bit stupid as you can't swim as your legs are stuck in the air but it's an interesting experience. But people don't read newspapers like you see in the adverts because your hands get wet..obviously..

Bad things
Didn't have any cash for the visa. Had to bribe security to sneak out an ATM and then join the back of the queue
Hotel collection service came the night before and didn't come when we arrived. Came eventually after convincing them on the phone that 12:15pm was in the afternoon and not at midnight. Waited an hour. Hurumphed and crossed arms on the trip to the hotel hopefully conveying their utter incompetence.
The Dead Sea has 10 times the amount of salt per whatsit as the ocean. Hence you float. Also hence it bloody stings if you get any of it on tender parts like your eye lids. It also tastes so awful that you immediately have to run out and get some water. If you get it in your eyes you're pretty much blinded and bang your feet on stones as you stagger out. Big recommendation - don't fart. The physical action is immediately excruciating and quickly wipes away any self congratulating smirks...

Mount Nebo and Bethany-Beyond-Jordan

The first two photos are from the top of Mount Nebo. This is where Moses is said to have seen the 'Promised Land' before he died. On a clear day you can see Jerusalem, Jericho, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. We could make out everything except Jerusalem. It was a little to hazy to see that far. The Franciscan monks have been restoring the Moses Memorial Church. It was first described by the Roman nun, Etheria in 393 AD. In 597 a large Byzantine monastery was built around the church. Archeologists have uncovered some lovely mosaics from that time. They are in the process of adding a bridge over the large mosaic floor so that people won't step on it and ruin it.

The rest of the photos are from Bethany-Beyond-Jordan. This is the place they think Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. First, we boarded an open-backed shuttle to drive to the pedestrian entrance. We passed by Elijah's Hill, a mound of earth that is said to mark the place where Elijah ascended into heaven on a chariot. As we left the shuttle, we followed a dirt road until we came to a platform for our first glimpse of the Jordan River. It was disappointingly narrow. I guess they use a lot of the water for irrigation now, but there are marks to show how high it used to flow. I was amazed that this small river marks the border between Jordan and Israel.

As we continued along the path we came to the actual baptism sight. It is the small pool of water surrounded by the ruins of four different early Byzantine churches that were destroyed by earthquakes. They believe that John the Baptist lived nearby (in the wilds) surviving on locusts and honey. We wandered past the baptism sight toward a beautiful, newly-constructed Greek Orthodox Church. Hopefully, this one is earthquake-proof. They are planning to build a Catholic Church next. Pope John Paul visited this sight a few years ago.
Beyond the Greek Orthodox Church we came to a place along the river where we were able to dip our own hands into the sacred waters of the Jordan. Just across the river at that point, the Israelis are busily constructing their own visitor center. I couldn't believe how close we were to a territory that is in the news every day. From the river it all seemed so peaceful. The photo of the reinforced wall is the Israeli (or Palestinian) side of the river. Jericho, just across the water, is part of the Palestinian Territory.

Sunday, 22 June 2008


Just arrived in another rocky deserty camel place although the people seem more civilised. Camels the same.

Madaba is small town with convenient things and a mosaic that draws Christians to ooh and aah. Had a quick look myself. Very nice. Bits missing of course and it reminded me of going around a bathroom showroom. It's also close to the dead sea and Jerusalem. Jorden must be a good place to learn diplomacy when you're sandwiched between Israel, the West Bank, Syria and Iraq


Hughada on the Red Sea, Egypt
Guidebooks advise that this is an ugly place without beaches, expensive accomodation and full of Russians. Bridgend in the summer if you've ever been....Spent 5 nights at a posh resort - included as part of our tour - and only spent 1 night surrounded by Russians in a bar with a barman who did Russian tricks. Managed to win some drinks out of him with some astute mathematics on his cocktail stick problem; received a beer from a thick set Russian who was obviously a sailor or oil oligarth and the ruskis beat Sweden in the football so everyone was happy apart from the blond bearded chaps in the corner wearing viking horns...

Quite liked it really. The taxi drivers weren't aggressive, you could walk past a shop without being bundled in and it didn't smell of camels

Good things
Diving in the Red Sea - seeing fish, not losing buddy (wife), not getting sick, not drowning etc
Snorkelling from the beach
Beach volleyball in Arabic. Had to master the technique of jumping in and out of flip flops at the right time as the sand was still at furnace temperature
Police convoys between Luxor and Hughada and then Hughada to Cairo. A bit like the Canonball Run, hurtling through the desert and getting all the other traffic to stop and wait for you. Not sure why we had an armed guard. Maybe to keep the camel hustlers away?
Leaving dodgy tipping Egypt

Bad thingsWatching football on a screen with a projector that had a permanent smudge in the middle so it was a bit like playing spot the ball
Germany beating the French
Having 2 drivers and a guide in our taxi and having to tip them all
Getting charged extra in Egyptian pounds because none on the banks had enough British pounds. They only trust Euros as the stable foreign currency now it seems.

Karnak and Luxor